Internet alive and well, says founder

One of the founders of the Internet said in a keynote address at the annual Metropolitan Communications conference in San Francisco Wednesday that Internet traffic is still growing rapidly and he predicts a surge in high-end Internet hardware sales by the end of the year.

Lawrence Roberts from 1967 until 1973 was director of information processing techniques at ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency), where he designed ARPAnet, the first incarnation of the Internet. In his keynote, Roberts revealed the methodology he used to arrive at the numbers backing his claim.

“For the first 20 years or so, ARPA measured Internet traffic,” Roberts said. “Then the NSF (National Science Foundation) took over. But since 1996, when the NSF turned the Internet over to commercial companies, there haven’t been any reliable numbers on total backbone traffic.”

Roberts interviewed the top 20 Internet carriers to compile his numbers. “They were only willing to share (the numbers) with me under the condition that I reveal only the totals,” Roberts said. His methodology took into account factors such as average number of packet hops and peering arrangements between carriers.

The results show total Internet backbone traffic in January 2002 at 55 petabytes per month, a little more than double the figure from a year ago.

“We have added our numbers onto the old ARPA and NSF statistics, and it shows that growth has been steady since the inception of the Internet. Traffic has more than doubled every year,” Roberts said.

His numbers also show that the playing field of top-tier backbone providers is not consolidating. “This is because traffic is growing faster than the speed of the trunk lines. If you have an OC-192 (10Gbps) trunk, economies of scale dictate that you can play in this market.” Roberts predicts that this trend will continue until the end of the decade, when he thinks Internet traffic growth will start to slow. “For the next several years we will see a lot of core, top-tier providers in this market, with no clear leader.”

As CTO of Caspian Networks Inc., Roberts has a vested interest in these numbers. Caspian, a startup in San Jose, Calif., is building a next-generation IP super-switch, slated to debut sometime this spring.

“We aren’t saying much about it (the super-switch), except that it will scale to 100Tbps,” Roberts said, “and it will handle both voice and data.” The study bodes well for high-end network equipment vendors such as Cisco Systems Inc., Juniper Networks Inc., and Caspian, but Roberts insists the study was objective.

“We needed to do this study to see where the market is going, so we would know what to build. And after 30 years in this industry, I am not going to twist the numbers.”

He also predicts that we will see a recovery in the tech economy soon.

“People over-purchased in 2000,” Roberts said. “So they did not need to purchase in 2001 to keep up with Internet traffic growth. But this over capacity is limited to the next few quarters.”